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June 6, 2012

Value Picks

First, Third, and DH for 6/6/12

by Michael Street

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Fantasy prognostication is not a perfect science, but my Value Picks have been solid, graduating six players in seven weeks, including top performers like Adam LaRoche, Chris Davis, and Will Middlebrooks. Along the way, I’ve made some bad calls too, of course, largely on single-league players like Brad Eldred and Conor Gillaspie. This week features one of both kinds—a promotion and a demotion—along with the usual crop of strong performers available on at least 80 percent of most leagues’ waiver wires.

Departures
Justin Smoak (Yahoo! 23%, ESPN 19%, CBS 55%) indeed caught fire last week, hitting .409/.567/.864 in 30 plate appearances, including two home runs in Wednesday’s 21-8 football game against the Rangers. He had three straight multi-hit games and added 141 points to his SLG and 31 points to his batting average since May 23, and his overall triple-slash of .240/.300/.408 sits just above his 60th percentile PECOTA in all but OBP. That makes the seven walks in his past 30 plate appearances look even better, since it took 145 plate appearances to register his previous seven. Whether that’s real patience or pitchers being more careful with him, his OBP could begin to rise too. But you’ve got him for his power, which would easily surpass PECOTA’s 90th percentile of .434 if he’s found his stroke.

My bad. I figured Bob Melvin would take leather over wood in his first-base dilemma, but he went with Kila Ka’aihue (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%) over Daric Barton (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%). The A’s demoted Barton Saturday, giving first base to the Kila Monster and leaving me with egg on my face.

Arrivals
Lonnie “Kids in the” Chisenhall (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 5%, CBS 21%) has been a VP before, and I mentioned in Playing Pepper about a month ago that he’d be up when Jack Hannahan (who evidently has no nickname) cooled off. Well, Hannahan has cooled off, although it took an ice pack to do it: he ended up on the DL with a strained calf last week, and Cleveland called up Chisenhall, their once and future third baseman, to replace him.

Chisenhall has done more than just replace Hannahan’s more-than-adequate .276/.353/.419 line at the hot corner. He homered as part of his two-hit return to action on Tuesday, then clubbed another on Friday, and he currently owns a .333/.333/.667 triple-slash line. Both of those homers came at home, a good indication that the power expected from him should continue, although HitTracker indicates that wind helped Friday’s 426-foot jack travel an extra 52 feet.

As BP 2012 points out, Cleveland fans debated last season whether Chisenhall or Jason Kipnis was the team’s top prospect, and Kipnis won the argument on the field, hitting .272/.333/.507 against Chisenhall’s .255/.284/.415. The third baseman’s plate approach had much to do with his lack of dominance, as he whiffed 22 percent of the time while walking in just 3.6 percent of his plate appearances. The problem wasn’t the way he attacked strikes, swinging at 69 percent of them and making contact with 90 percent. It was his inability to lay off balls that hurt him; his 42.3 swing rate on pitches outside the zone would have ranked him in the top ten in MLB had he qualified.

This impatience and a weak spring left Chisenhall in the minors to begin 2012, though he didn’t show much patience there either, walking just four times in 119 plate appearances for a 3.4 percent walk rate, his worst rate ever in the minors. At the same time, he whiffed at a 16.8 percent rate, his worst performance since 2009. He can be forgiven these rates a bit because of his results—a .324/.353/.541 triple-slash that represents career bests in OPS, SLG, and batting average—but those were driven by a .360 BABIP. Chisenhall typically posts a BABIP right around .300, but this is obviously high even for him.

So temper your expectations somewhat for Chisenhall, who has yet to walk in 18 plate appearances this season and has been benched against lefties in favor of Jose Lopez, but he should deliver power and a decent enough average thanks to the pretty swing that’s consistently referenced by scouts (as well as BP). Kevin Goldstein predicts he’ll have a decent batting average with 20-25 homers—above average for his position but not spectacular. He’ll battle to keep his spot after Hannahan returns, motivation that could allow him to be even more productive, but even performing around his 60th PECOTA percentile of .258/.307/.413 should make him fungible in deeper leagues.

Incumbents
James Loney (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 8%, CBS 30%) broke out of an 0-for-12 mini-slump last Thursday with an RBI single off Manny Parra, a game in which he yielded the start to Scott Van Slyke for the first time against a righty. Loney followed that up with a two-hit performance on Saturday in Colorado and remains a good play despite the platoon.

As expected from a rookie, Matt Adams (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 17%, CBS 56%) cooled off last week after his hot start, but he faced Tim Hudson, R.A. Dickey, and fellow southpaws Jonathon Niese and Johan Santana, who had a pretty good outing on Friday. Lance Berkman won’t be back for at least another month, so Adams will have time to smooth out those rookie hills and valleys and continue to deliver value to your fantasy squad.

The Giants faced three lefties last week, so Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 13%, CBS 35%) picked up more splinters, even sitting in favor of Aubrey Huff against Matt Garza. Bochy claims he’ll be giving Belt more consistent at-bats, and he did so yesterday, resulting in a hit and two walks. It’s hard to see Aubrey Huff (who went 2-for-May) pushing him this much, so he’s worth hanging onto this week to see if Bochy delivers on his promise. If you’re too impatient, though, check out some of the options in Playing Pepper below.

Placido Polanco (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 5%, CBS 25%) has picked up a hit in nine of his last 10 starts. Five of those games were multi-hit performances, three of which occurred last week, including his second homer of the year on Monday. He also scored in seven of those 10 starts, walking once and striking out twice over 46 plate appearances. His name recognition will push him off the waiver wire sooner than others, so get him while he’s still hot.

Collecting another homer last week (this time hanging onto the bat), Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 2%, CBS 13%) also picked up two doubles and a triple, showing that his power surge is for real. He’s still striking out at a robust 27.8 percent rate, diminishing his value, but he’s bopped his way to mixed-league relevance and is a great pickup for anyone needing a powerful third baseman—a rarity on waiver wires.

AL-only VP
Two weeks ago, I mentioned that Hideki Matsui (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 3%) had been called up but that he seemed too rusty to be a good add just yet. Godzilla showed a complete lack of rust in his very first game, crushing a 401-foot longball into right center. Just to show that was no fluke, he clobbered an even longer one in his next start, curling it around the foul pole in right field in the first inning.

Other than those two shots, however, Matsui has just one other hit (a single) in 16 plate appearances, but he’s made good contact, striking out just twice over that same span. Matsui isn’t especially known for his power, posting just one season with over 30 home runs in his nine-year MLB career, but his career 10.8 percent BB% and 13.4 percent K% have helped him hit .285 with a .363 OBP. Last season’s poor .251/.321/.375 line had a lot to do with his home park, the cavernous McAfee Coliseum, and he should fare a bit better at the Trop.

Matsui played in the outfield in all four of his starts thus far but should shift to a time share at designated hitter with Luke Scott after Desmond Jennings returns this week. Joe Maddon has said he’ll find a spot for Matsui, joking that he might try the lumbering 37-year-old at third base. Positional uncertainty does dampen my enthusiasm for Matsui, but he should get a few starts per week, enough to make a difference for your AL-only squad.

NL-only VP
Matt Hague (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) finally picked up an oh-fer Sunday after hitting in every start since his call-up on May 25. He hasn’t brought any power yet—just two of his 10 hits have been doubles—so his overall .250/.302/.300 line isn’t as impressive as it should be for a first baseman. At least he’s not overswinging, as this and his 18.6 K% suggests. He’s getting the playing time that Clint Hurdle promised and will remain a good NL-only option as long as that continues.

Playing Pepper
The overall line of .243/.341/.414 for Todd Helton (Yahoo! 14%, ESPN 18%, CBS 43%) may not look terribly impressive, but the Toddfather has a nine-game hit streak under his belt that has boosted his OPS 58 points. He’s still sitting about once a week, but he’s a strong option for owners in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues.

The secret to owning streaky players like Ty Wigginton (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 16%, CBS 27%) or Pedro Alvarez (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 12%, CBS 40%) is to play them consistently because their hot streaks are so hard to predict. Wiggy hit .362/.424/.517 from April 12 to May 2, then hit .109/.218/.109 from May 3 to May 23 before rebounding to hit .323/.417/.677 in the eight games since. Alvarez was hitting .067/.097/.267 through April 20 before hitting .395/.426/.837 over the next two weeks, .106/.232/.149 for two weeks after that, and then capping off May with a six-game hit streak when he hit .292/.280/.542. If you want these guys on your fantasy roster, you’ll have to take the good with the bad.

Speaking of streaky, Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 5%, CBS 20%) has hit in 17 of his last 18 games to bring his overall average to .300/.311/.440, seizing control of the Colorado third base job. Only that OBP is within reasonable PECOTA expectations, however, sitting just above his 50th percentile; his SLG and batting average are at, or above, his 90th percentile, so expect some regression.

The return of Manny Ramirez (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 16%) to the bigs has been delayed a bit due to a wrist injury, and he lasted just one at-bat in his lone start for Triple-A Sacramento this month.

With Carlos Lee hitting the disabled list, Houston will give Brett Wallace (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) one more chance, but his .265/.327/.476 line this season in Triple-A represents his worst performance there in three seasons, which makes redemption a lot less likely.

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